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Grieving Chino Hills father seeks answers to daughter’s death after mental break, arrest

When San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies responded to his desperate 911 call for help with an out-of-control daughter, Sam Toghraie says he warned them to “be careful” with her as she was taken into custody. She was pregnant, schizophrenic and had stopped taking her mood-stabilizing medication.

Just minutes before, Casandra Pastora, 24, had punched him in the face, chased him with a knife into the backyard and then attacked and choked a neighbor when her father locked her out of their Chino Hills house on March 13.

Deputy Daniel Renear told Toghraie his daughter would be taken to the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, and that he need not worry.

“He said she was being taken to one of the best places around for people with mental conditions,” Toghraie said in a telephone interview. “He said it was a great place. He said they specialize in people with mental health conditions.”

Nine days later, Pastora was dead.

Toghraie said he has been told three different stories about his daughter’s self-inflicted injuries that resulted in her death. And he still doesn’t know whether his daughter was provided the proper medical treatment she clearly needed while in sheriff’s custody.

Now Toghraie has filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Riverside alleging civil rights violations, including inadequate conditions of confinement and denial of needed medical care for his daughter. Named in the suit, filed Aug. 19, are the county, former Sheriff John McMahon, current Sheriff Shannon Dicus, who was appointed in July, and Capt. Victor Moreno.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to requests for information or comment.



History of jail problems

The lawsuit underscores years of complaints and concerns by inmates and prisoner advocacy groups of alleged abuses at San Bernardino County jails, mainly West Valley, over inadequate medical and mental health care and excessive use of force, the latter of which prompted millions of dollars in payouts by the county to settle lawsuits.

In February 2016, the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office filed a class-action lawsuit against San Bernardino County and its Sheriff’s Department seeking reforms in county jails, especially West Valley, which houses about 3,000 inmates. It was one of several-class action lawsuits filed by the prisoner advocacy nonprofilt against counties across the state, including Riverside County.

“It’s a familiar story in San Bernardino and many other jails throughout the state and the country, unfortunately,” said Donald Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office. “Many of the jails that we dealt with, suicide precautions were a big issue.”

In December 2018, the Sheriff’s Department agreed to settle the lawsuit by agreeing to, among other things, hire 60 mental health professionals and to stem incidents of excessive use of force by deputies against inmates. The judge appointed an expert to monitor the situation and ensure the Sheriff’s Department was complying.

“They made some serious progress, but they still have some things to fix, and medical care is now more of a challenge,”  Specter said.

Father’s 911 call

Toghraie said the incident at his Whistler Court home occurred during an argument with Pastora over not taking her medications. As he told Renear, Pastora had been taking risperidone to treat her schizophrenia along with another medication to counter the side effects of risperidone. She had recently stopped taking her medication out of concern it would harm her unborn child.

“I found out that she was pregnant two weeks prior, but I didn’t know she was off of her meds,” Toghraie said.

After assaulting Toghraie that day, Pastora attacked a neighbor who was a friend of the family. The woman’s son pulled her off his mother.

When deputies arrived, Pastora was hunkered down on the ground, eating dirt, Toghraie said. She was taken away in an ambulance and later booked into West Valley.

Injured in jail

The following day, Renear paid Toghraie another visit to tell him his daughter had been placed into a padded cell, nude, but injured herself by punching and banging her head against the cell door window and had to be taken to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fontana.

“They put her in this alleged safe room without restraints knowing it wasn’t safe,” said Toghraie’s attorney, Ed Lyman, with The Cochran Law Firm in Los Angeles.

Toghraie said Renear told him medical tests taken at the hospital concluded Pastora — or Casi as she was known — was 14 weeks pregnant, that the baby had a healthy heartbeat and was fine.

Toghraie offered to provide the name of Pastora’s doctor, but he said Renear declined. “He said they have medical staff at the facility,” Toghraie said.

Two days later, on March 16, a sheriff’s detective called Toghraie and delivered some bad news: Pastora was back at Kaiser  after a suicide attempt and had lost her baby. The detective told him Pastora had suffered from a “choking incident” and was in critical but stable condition. The detective had no additional information, Toghraie said.

In the dark

In the five days that followed, Toghraie said he tried to get more information from the Sheriff’s Department about his daughter, not knowing whether she was still hospitalized or back at the jail. He made phone calls and even drove to West Valley on March 17 to try and get information on his daughter’s welfare, to no avail.

On March 21, Toghraie went onto the sheriff’s inmate locator web page and entered his daughter’s information, and saw that she had been released from custody that day. The next day, he drove to Kaiser in Fontana, where he learned his daughter had been the whole week.

Doctors at Kaiser told Toghraie his daughter suffered from widespread brain damage and likely would never recover. After running another test that confirmed as much, Pastora was removed from a ventilator and declared dead at 4:55 p.m. on March 22, according to her death certificate.

Still no answers

More than five months after the deaths of his daughter and his unborn grandchild, Toghraie says authorities have still not provided him with any information about the circumstances surrounding her injuries or cause of death, despite repeated requests. Pastora’s death certificate still lists her cause of death as “pending.”

“As of today, the defendants refuse to provide Casi’s father with any information concerning her arrest, her detention in jail, her injuries, her medical records, her autopsy, or even a completed death certificate,”  the lawsuit states.

A nurse at Kaiser Permanente, according to Toghraie, told him the deputies who brought Pastora to the hospital initially gave three different versions of what happened to her — that she choked on something, that she tried smothering herself and that she tried hanging herself.

“I think it speaks for itself they knew she was mentally ill. They knew she was pregnant. They knew she was withdrawing from her medication and had medical needs right then and there,” Lyman said. “They could have taken her to a hospital, but they immediately detained her. In that period, she lost her baby and she lost her life.”

Source: Orange County Register

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